WELLESLEY, Richard (1787-1831).
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Family and Education
b. 22 Apr. 1787, 1st illegit. s. of Richard Colley Wellesley*, 1st Mq. Wellesley, by Hyacinthe Gabrielle, adopted da. of Pierre Roland, banker, of Paris1 (whom he m. 1794, s.p. legit.). educ. Mr Roberts’s sch. Mitcham; Eton 1800; Christ Church, Oxf. 1805; L. Inn 1808. m. 1821, Jane Eliza, da. of George Chambers* of Hartford, Hunts., 4s. 1da.
Ld. of Treasury Jan.-June 1812; commr. of stamp duties 1826-d.
The Marquess Wellesley’s misconduct towards the mother of his five children and his neglect of them was notorious, but he could not (except by her) be faulted in his solicitude for his firstborn son, who closely resembled him and showed promise. His education was carefully supervised when his father went to India and a legal career projected. Lord Grenville acted as his guardian. By 1800 his father had to be dissuaded from seeking the succession to his title for him, but was assured by Lord Bathurst that his talents and his manners were ‘without exception the best I ever saw any boy possessed of’; and he obtained at that time the reversion to his father’s chief remembrancer’s office in the Irish exchequer, an arrangement which it took Pitt two years to swallow. His father’s friends continued to send highly favourable reports of him and in 1804, when he was studying Indian affairs, he jocularly informed the marquess that he expected to become prime minister at the present rate of changes in that office, and his mother, after his presentation to the Queen, ‘me voilÃ courtier à l’âge de dix-sept ans’. His father expected ‘great things of him in the future’. Lord Grenville thought his father might invest in the Okehampton property of Henry Holland* for him in 1806.2
Wellesley’s mother wished him to be in Parliament, but in December 1808 he set sail for the Peninsula, avoiding the break-up of his parents’ marriage, with Canning’s offer of an attaché’s place at Lisbon. He carried messages to his uncle Sir Arthur Wellesley and sent reports to his father, who in July 1809 became ambassador to Spain. He remained behind when his father returned to England as Foreign secretary, reporting Spanish news to him. On his return in February 1810, his father, finding him unwilling to be his under-secretary at that time, wished to see him in Parliament and, failing in another scheme (he at first aspired to a seat for Woodstock), fell back on the premier’s suggestion that he should come in on a vacancy for Queenborough on the government interest. He informed his father, ‘My most ardent ambition will be to watch over your reputation and not to degrade it by my exertions’. Perceval at once offered him a place on the Treasury board, which his father did not then accept for him. He studied parliamentary history and was also given free access to Foreign Office papers by his father. He voted with ministers on the Regency question, 1 Jan., and on 12 Feb. 1811, with his father’s approval, he seconded the address, showing his knowledge of the Peninsula and praising his uncle Wellington’s exertions there. He disliked having to make a set speech, but it was well received. On 1 Apr. he again spoke on the Peninsular campaign. In May his father planned to appoint him to a commission for South America. In the summer he was again supposed to have declined the Admiralty or Treasury boards, offered by Perceval, until his father obtained the Prince of Wales’s concurrence. This was obtained and in December he agreed to become a lord of the Treasury. On 31 Dec. he was gazetted, as the Hon. Richard Wellesley. His sister wrote, 9 Jan. 1812: ‘He seems to think of nothing but politics, and studies and occupies himself very much all day long’.3
Avoiding re-election at Queenborough, he came in for East Grinstead, a safer seat available to friends of the government. On 10 Feb. 1812 he defended his father in debate against a charge of extravagance during his embassy to Spain. He was named to the civil list committee that day and acted as government teller on 14 Feb. His father’s resignation that month greatly embarrassed him. Robert Ward commented of the marquess, ‘he thus affords the unique spectacle of the head of the most energetic family in the nation, acting against all their wishes ...’. Perceval hoped to induce Richard to remain in office, with the marquess’s consent, but he felt unable to do so. The opposition tried to recruit him at once. Perceval begged him to retain his seat, but on 25 Feb. he applied to him for the Chiltern Hundreds, having paused only to vote with ministers on McMahon’s sinecure the night before, a line he had likewise pursued on 7 and 21 Feb. His father forbade him to reconsider his decision at Perceval’s request. The Whig Morning Chronicle suggested that his resignation was due to his refusal to oppose Catholic relief, but he was at pains to contradict this publicly and to assert that he followed his father’s line. His sister wrote:
It was impossible for Richard to remain in with the opposite party if he wished to continue upon good terms with papa, so he was obliged to resign his good appointment at the Treasury and give up his seat in Parliament, both of which were particularly agreeable to him. The consequence is that now he is nothing, and his great fear is that he may not get into Parliament again this session, which will be very provoking, and a very hard thing for him to be forced to lose a whole year at his time of life, and to receive such a check at the beginning of his career.
His fear proved well founded, and on 2 May his sister wrote:
Poor Richard has no hopes of getting into Parliament again, which makes him very disconsolate, and finding he has no chance of getting into office again, and therefore being wholly without employment, he means if possible to get chambers at Lincoln’s Inn and there busy himself to study the law— a very melancholy change for one who has been already bustling in politics.4
In May 1812 Wellesley was a founder member of Grillion’s Club, a non-partisan one, of which he later became secretary. Had his father succeeded in forming a government in June 1812, he would probably have been restored to his seat on the Treasury board. As it was, he secured a seat at the general election on the interest of a personal friend, Sir Leonard Thomas Worsley Holmes, who was at the same time a recruit to his father’s politics. No price was asked, the only condition being concurrence in politics. Henceforward a silent Member, he followed his father’s line in supporting the sinecure bill, 29 Mar. 1813, and Catholic relief, in sympathy with which he paired on 2 Mar. 1813 and voted on 13 and 24 May 1813, 22 Apr. 1814, 30 May 1815 and 21 May 1816. Following the dissolution of the Wellesley-Canning party, Canning dutifully applied to Lord Liverpool for a place for him in July 1814, but there was none available. He voted against ministers on the property tax, the transfer of Genoa, the resumption of war with Buonaparte and the City of London petition, 19, 27, 28 Apr., 1 May 1815. At this point his patron, who could no longer swallow opposition, demurred. Wellesley proceeded to vote with ministers on the Duke of Cumberland’s establishment, 29 June, 3 July 1815, but it was understood that he and his fellow nominee at Yarmouth were to resign their seats at the start of the next session, having obtained grace to look out for other seats. His colleague did so, but Wellesley, as a gesture of personal friendship, was permitted to retain his for another session, ‘in a state of neutrality’. He found this intolerable and, without finding another seat, resigned in February 1817, much as he liked ‘the occupations of Parliament’. He informed Lord Grenville, whom he had also consulted, that he hoped to return to Westminster before long, ‘on a better footing’. Meanwhile he wrote an article on Spain and her colonies for the Quarterly Review.5
Since his mother’s death in 1816, Wellesley’s relations with his father had been undermined by the latter’s growing indifference and insolvency. He was, accordingly, a mere adventurer in the election of 1818. Failing to find an opening at St. Albans, he turned up at Tregony and then at Callington on the eve of the poll, but could not induce one of the ministerial challengers there to step down in his favour. They thought it was a trick and that he would have been an opposition supporter.6 He himself would have preferred independence, but he supported ministers silently and hopelessly when he re-entered Parliament in 1820. A tragic figure for the rest of his life, he died 1 Mar. 1831, having twice attempted suicide.7